From zero to three novels in under two years: was this a good idea?

y1 is no longer my latest book and I feel strangely sad about that.  Because of the way the three stories of x0, y1 and z2 overlap in time,  some of the writing was done in parallel  and I pushed myself hard to get the ideas for all three down on paper while it was all fresh in my head. So it has only been five short months since y1 was published and now a have a brand new little book called z2.

red shoesI felt that x0 was the book I wrote to prove to myself that I could write a book.  Indeed, I learned that writing a whole entire novel is a lot of hard work. It requires organizational skills and patience and other qualities I never envisioned great authors having. And given my penchant for research, and my insistence on adding links throughout the book,  I arguably made the process even more complicated than it had to be.  But I did it and in the end there was a real live book produced and  it is one that isn’t half bad. In the eyes of many it might benefit from my losing some of the facts and extraneous material that I personally love, but at least for folks who share my interests and style, it seems to work.

stock-photo-yemen-or-veiled-chameleon-sitting-on-a-cactus-leaf-42756706y1, however, was the book I wrote to prove that I could write a second book, and a novel that wasn’t in any way autobiographical. I had more fun with it.  The plot has more twists, the villains are more believable, and setting in the South Pacific is frankly more appealing to most than Nigeria. Is it a better book? It probably has more mainstream appeal. Its biggest issue so far seems to be that it is stuck in a collection of novels labeled science fiction, and yet y1 itself barely qualifies as such. Readers mostly like it, it’s just not what they were expecting.

So what do I think about z2? Honestly?

Warme SonnenstrahlenWell, its greatest strength and weakness are that it suffers from a bad case of “hell, I can really do this shit!” I had a lot of fun writing this book as well, but I let myself try new techniques and I admit up front that they may not work for everyone.  My style of jumping between interweaving story lines is more pronounced here, and I sometimes jump through time as well as space to make my point.  There is rhythm to it that becomes apparent pretty quickly, and I’ve been told that if a reader sticks with me through the first thirty or so pages my approach starts to seem normal and even becomes pleasant. I just have to hope my readers will give it that chance.

Each book, and the entire process of putting it together, has been a huge learning experience. Note some of the rejected cover ideas for each novel shown here. The character Jake in z2 is in some ways my alter-ego, expressing what I have concluded from this “going from one blank piece of paper to three complete novels in just under two years” experience. What does Jake discover? Oh please, please read z2 and find out.

(Check out my post on my blog for x0 here for the second half of my thoughts on this subject.)

Side effects of a quick fix

“We live in a world where everybody wants a quick fix for their problems,” said Dr. Sasha Bardey, a psychiatrist who is a  co-producer of “Side Effects.” an upcoming film staring  Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones. This new thriller, due out Feb 8, mixes murder and psychiatric medicine and you can read about it in the New York Times here.

It interests me because this is a combination I explored in the novel y1.  The shape-altering young hero of my book finds himself entangled in a murder devised to hide some of the unsavory secrets of a unscrupulous fictitious pharmaceutical company. Director Steven Soderbergh, on the other hand, will be telling the tale of murder committed as a side effect of prescription drugs intended to treat depression.

Check out the trailer for the movie here.


You’ve got to have a dream

From the Musical South Pacific

From the Musical South Pacific

The world has changed a lot since  that day in late July in the early sixties when my younger sister had a Hawaiian party for her birthday. We wore hula skirts made out of pink tissue paper and piled into the station wagon to all see “South Pacific” which was making a second run at the town’s only theater.

Check out at least the beginning of this video showing a Polynesian woman trying to get an American soldier in WWII to fall in love with her daughter.

It’s over fifty years later.  Yes, movies have clearly come a long way.  Yes, the concept behind the scene could be considered offensive.  And the message of the song itself?

musicYou’ve got to have a dream. If you don’t have a dream? How you gonna have a dream come true?

Yeah.  Still right on the mark.  Thank you Rogers and Hammerstein

How happy is your brain?



My other blog includes occasional posts about telepathy because the hero of my other novel, x0,  is a budding telepath.  Last night I made an attempt to understand how telepathy might be possible without requiring magic that defies the laws of the known universe. (Please understand that I have no objection to law-defying magic.) I realized that much of my arguement came from my research for y1 into the workings of the human brain. Zane, the hero of y1, is a student of neuroscience because he desperately wants to understand how he can alter his appearance. Once he begins working for a pharmaceutical company dedicated to mental health issues, however, other aspects of the brain begin to intrigue him.  Like, what happens in your brain when you are happy?

A brain works by chemistry and by electrical impulse, and it directs hundreds of chemical substances called neurotransmitters that travel in-between the brain’s cells, delivering messages about thoughts and feelings. I share Zane’s amazement that such a system even works, much less with the precision that it does.

We do know that different substances deliver certain kinds of messages, like a FedEx that only does books or a UPS that exclusively delivers clothing. One of these messengers, serotonin, generally likes to blab to the nearest neuron about anxiety, mood, sexuality, and appetite. Another, norepinephrine, appears to focus on delivering messages about fatigue, alertness, and stress. Dopamine likes to communicate about motivation and reward. The theory behind antidepressants is that the neurotransmitters that like to communicate about feelings should be linked to a person’s happiness. So when people are depressed perhaps it is because they do not have enough of these particular messengers running around to spread the joy.

medicineThe very first antidepressants created in the ‘50s tried to raise the brain’s levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, to play with this mental message system. A second class of anti-depressants was based on inhibiting the enzyme that breaks down these guys in order to leave more of the good stuff in the brain. Basically the same idea. Next came the less side-effect-plagued successor, known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI), the most frequently prescribed antidepressants today. First developed in the ‘70s, and continuously improved upon by different pharmaceutical companies, SSRI’s work by stopping the process of reuptake, a fancy name for when a responsible neuron absorbs the neurotransmitter it has sent out, to take the messenger back off the streets once the message has been sent. The theory here is that by keeping the sending neuron from doing its re-absorbing, more of this “happy” chemical stays running around the brain. Again, the same idea.



While it sounds great to say that taking this medication is “fixing chemical imbalances in the brain,” the problem is that no one gets to do experiments on a live human brain. Thankfully. And dead human brains don’t send chemical messages and can’t be depressed. Neither really can animals, at least those generally accepted for grisly lab experiments. So no one actually knows whether depressed people have less serotonin in their brains. Or whether they reabsorb it too fast without medication. In fact, no one knows how much serotonin a generally joyful person has. Can one really have too little? Or too much? Because a few antidepressants lower serotonin levels, and they appear to work too.

Trying to figure out what makes for a happy brain is complicated even more because there is no way to tell how much these medications change a person’s serotonin levels, because there is no way to measure those levels in a live human. Which means that, in the end, the only evidence we have that serotonin levels might be related to human depression at all is that in more cases than not, the medication works.

Is it working because it is based on an accurate analysis of how chemicasl in our brains keep us happy? Or not?  That will be subject of another post.

Happy now?

When I was in grade school, they told me to write down what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I wrote down happy.
They told me I didn’t understand the assignment,
I told them they didn’t understand life.
—  author unknown

(Voted #6 in the list of best happiness quotes ever over at The Board of Wisdom. Check them out here)


In the year ahead may you celebrate your life, dance for joy, and cherish your uniqueness.

Here’s wishing you a 2013 filled with all that makes you happy!